Agribusiness giants scored a victory in Missouri on Tuesday when voters narrowly approved a corporate-backed state constitutional amendment that critics say will threaten animal rights, remove checks and balances around food safety, and make it more difficult to regulate industrial farming practices. 

The ballot question, which was supported by big-ag players like Monsanto and Cargill, asked: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural and ranching practices shall not be infringed?” With all precincts reporting, the measure passed 498,751 to 496,223 — a margin of just 2,528 votes, or less than one percentage point.

This makes Missouri the second state in the nation, after North Dakota, to adopt such a provision. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been promoting similar legislation in state capitols for almost two decades.

While supporters of the so-called “Right to Farm” amendment described it as “a way for us to push back a little bit” against environmental groups and animal welfare organizations, opponents said it would open the door for foreign-owned factory farming in Missouri and “strip most local governments of their ability to stop foreign companies from polluting and contaminating our land.”

Joe Maxwell, former lieutenant governor of Missouri and head of the group that opposed the amendment, told Kristofor Husted of Mid-Missouri Public Radio that the amendment could shield factory farming operations from existing laws and regulations related to food safety, fertilizers and pesticides, genetically modified organisms, animal rights, and waste disposal.

“Those out here in the country, we’re just going to get screwed if this passes,” Maxwell said. “If this passes, those safeguards will be under attack by those who want to build large [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation]s in rural Missouri.”

The amendment was seen as a response to efforts by national animal rights organizations like the Humane Society to regulate dog-breeding operations known as “puppy mills.” Some farmers claimed that such efforts impose burdensome regulations not just on dog breeders but on any farmers that keep livestock or poultry.

“We’ve seen an increase in efforts by what we would call activist organizations throughout the country and in Missouri to try to impose unreasonable and unnecessary restrictions on agriculture,” Leslie Holloway, director of state and local governmental affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, told Bloomberg earlier this year. “We’re taking the approach of trying to be proactive.”

But the Humane Society of Missouri said the amendment was “a blatant, intentional effort to lower standards in dog breeding facilities and eliminate animal cruelty laws that protect all companion animals in our state.” 

The Missouri amendment appears to be part of a national strategy, according to Bloomberg.